Multiscale modeling and cinematic visualization of photosynthetic energy conversion processes from electronic to cell scales

Melih Sener, Stuart Levy, John E. Stone, A. J. Christensen, Barry Isralewitz, Robert Patterson, Kalina Borkiewicz, Jeffrey Carpenter, C. Neil Hunter, Zaida Luthey-Schulten, Donna Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conversion of sunlight into chemical energy, namely photosynthesis, is the primary energy source of life on Earth. A visualization depicting this process, based on multiscale computational models from electronic to cell scales, is presented in the form of an excerpt from the fulldome show Birth of Planet Earth. This accessible visual narrative shows a lay audience, including children, how the energy of sunlight is captured, converted, and stored through a chain of proteins to power living cells. The visualization is the result of a multi-year collaboration among biophysicists, visualization scientists, and artists, which, in turn, is based on a decade-long experimental-computational collaboration on structural and functional modeling that produced an atomic detail description of a bacterial bioenergetic organelle, the chromatophore. Software advancements necessitated by this project have led to significant performance and feature advances, including hardware-accelerated cinematic ray tracing and instanced visualizations for efficient cell-scale modeling. The energy conversion steps depicted feature an integration of function from electronic to cell levels, spanning nearly 12 orders of magnitude in time scales. This atomic detail description uniquely enables a modern retelling of one of humanity's earliest stories—the interplay between light and life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102698
JournalParallel Computing
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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